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Monday Scramble: Week makes big difference for Day

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Jason Day authors the best kind of sports story, Canada weeps for David Hearn, Robert Allenby sacks another caddie, Lexi Thompson bombs her way to another title and more in this week's North-of-the-Border edition of the Monday Scramble: 

It was in February, after his supremely talented boss won his third career title on the PGA Tour, that caddie Colin Swatton said of Jason Day: “One year where you’re fully healthy, it’s going to be a big year.” 

If only it were that easy.   

A clean bill of health is about the only thing missing from Day’s skill set. He’s insanely long off the tee (see: 386-yard drive on 17 Sunday). He’s deadly accurate with his irons. He’s streaky with the flat stick. And he’s highly motivated to maximize his potential and reach No. 1 in the world. But the hard-swinging Australian can never seem to avoid the disabled list, missing time over the years with injuries to his ankle, wrist, thumb and back. 

Day enjoyed an auspicious start to the season, winning in a playoff at Torrey Pines, but he still suffered another health-related setback. Plagued by vertigo, he withdrew from the Byron Nelson and collapsed at the U.S. Open before somehow grabbing a share of the 54-hole lead. 

This has been Day’s finest year to date (two wins, seven top-10s in 14 starts), and at his best he is as good as anyone in the world. He's as talented as Rory McIlroy, as competitive as Jordan Spieth, the total package. Our only hope is that he can stay healthy – not just for weeks at a time, but for months and years. Golf is better when he's in the mix.

1. The best storyline in sports is one of redemption, of a player or team learning from past failures to achieve a goal. Those two images at the top of the page of Jason Day were snapped six days apart.

2. A week ago, Day surged into a tie for the lead at the Open Championship but made 12 consecutive pars coming home and finished one shot out of a playoff. “I did the right things,” he would say afterward, but those did not include getting his 72nd-hole birdie putt to the hole. His 20-footer on the last came up six inches short. He stood on the green for what seemed like forever, his hand covering his mouth, as Spieth walked over and tried to console him.

Fast-forward six days, and Day showed the killer instinct that had been lacking at St. Andrews. He two-putted for birdie on 16, rolled in a 12-footer on 17 and then sized up a 22-footer on the last – nearly the same distance he had on the final hole at the Open.

“Get it to the hole this time,” he told himself, and then Day drained the putt to take a two-shot lead as the final group played the par-5 finishing hole. He won by one over Bubba Watson. 

This time, truly, he did the right things to win. 

3. How rare was that bounce back? This stat from the Golf Channel research department should help put it in perspective: Day is the first player since Hale Irwin in 1975 to miss a major-championship playoff by one shot and then win his next PGA Tour start. 

4. What a cruel week for the Canadians.

First, 2003 Masters champion Mike Weir – one of the country’s most popular sportsmen – announced that he was taking a break from the game, citing personal reasons. Then Graham DeLaet, the country’s best player, withdrew during the second round because of a thumb injury. 

And so the burden to end more than a half-century of futility fell on David Hearn, a 36-year-old who, despite some improved play over the past few years, is still winless on the PGA Tour. After a hot start on Sunday, he played the rest of his round in 2 over and was run over by the high-flying act of Day and Watson. He could only watch from the fairway as Day buried the winning putt. 

Woe, Canada: A foreigner won the Open for the 61st consecutive year.

5. An Old Course Open was always going to be a measure of how far Tiger Woods has fallen during this nightmarish season, but the 2015 edition was worse than anyone could have imagined. On a perfect day for scoring, he shot 76. On a course he loves more than any in the world, he limped home with a 7-over total. Worse still, he had no reasonable explanation for his struggles, bouncing from buzzword (“baseline shift”) to buzzword (“spin rates”) to shield himself from the ugly truths about his game. 

Fair or not, he’ll once again be in the spotlight this week as the host for the Quicken Loans National, which benefits his foundation. He should be highly motivated to try and put on a good show, but as we saw at the Open, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be able to summon a respectable performance. 

6. Woods hasn’t yet logged enough rounds to qualify for some of the PGA Tour’s statistical categories. Good thing, because the numbers aren’t pretty.

Here is but a sampling: 

  • Greens in regulation: 61.36%. This would place Woods 188th on Tour. When he won eight times in 2012-13, he was inside the top 30 in this department. 
  • Scrambling: 43.14%. Remember those short-game yips from earlier this season? Yeah, he still hasn’t totally fixed those issues. Woods isn’t just last in this area – if he qualified, he’d be last by nearly five percentage points. He was top five in this category as recently as 2012. 
  • Scoring: 73.015. How bad has it gotten? Woods would rank ahead of only Weir (74.843), who just announced that he was taking an indefinite leave of absence.  

7. Something had to give on the PGA Tour schedule. The Canadian Open gets RBC guys like Jim Furyk, Matt Kuchar and Day who are coming off the Open, while next week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational nabs the best in the world in advance of the year’s final major. The four-event FedEx Cup playoffs begin two weeks after that.

Bumped from its usual early-July slot, the Quicken Loans National is definitely in a tough spot on the schedule. Not surprisingly, only five of the top 40 in the world will tee it up this week at RTJ’s course in Virginia, which hosted the 2005 Presidents Cup. The biggest names in the field: Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Jimmy Walker, Bill Haas, Gary Woodland and … oh yeah, the 266th-ranked player in the world: Tiger.  

8. Who is the second-ranked Englishman in the world behind Rose?

Here’s a hint: It’s not Paul Casey or Ian Poulter or Lee Westwood. No, it is Danny Willett, who rose to No. 24 after his one-shot victory at the European Masters, a week after he tied for sixth at the Open. He is now second in the season-long Race to Dubai.

9. Sangmoon Bae has only a few weeks left in this PGA Tour season before he returns home to South Korea to complete his two years of mandatory military service.

South Korea requires all men between ages 18-35 to serve for two years; players such as K.J. Choi and Y.E. Yang fulfilled their requirement before beginning their PGA Tour careers. Bae, 29, plans to finish out the FedEx Cup season – he’s currently ranked 29th – but won’t be in California to defend his title at the season-opening Open, one of his two wins on Tour. His career is in limbo.

10. Austin Cook’s amazing year continued at the Canadian Open. The 24-year-old Arkansas product, who began the season with no essentially no status on either the PGA or tours, earned his fourth top-25 finish in five starts. His T-6 at the Barbasol earned him a spot in Canada. His T-7 in Canada earned him a spot next week in Reno. It’s the most remarkable spot-start performance we’ve seen since Patrick Reed became Mr. Monday in 2012.

11. Jordan Spieth turns 22 today. How can this not warm your heart? 

“It’s not me, it’s you.” 

Caddie Mick Middlemo chose more colorful language, of course, but he could have reversed the old breakup excuse when he walked off the course last week in Canada and left Robert Allenby without a bagman.

Most telling in this war of words, however, is the fact that Middlemo said he is the FOURTH caddie to leave Allenby midway through a round – an indictment, if true, of how poorly Allenby treats his employees. 

Is Allenby’s bag an upgrade over no bag at all? Some caddie will probably find out soon enough. 

Lexi Thompson delivered a knockout punch Sunday at the Meijer Classic, closing with 65 to win for the fifth time on the LPGA circuit. That’s a far better result than when she actually threw a few punches during a Golf Digest shoot in February. Our Randall Mell reported that Thompson, who uses boxing as part of her training, punched one of the magazine’s editors several times – so many times, in fact, that it caused a deep bone bruise in her right wrist. It’s bothered her for the past five months, which might help explain why she was winless until last week.

Hey, why didn’t Lexi get criticized for playing in Michigan instead of Scotland? OK, so Open tuneups John Deere Classic and Meijer Classic aren’t created equal, but it’s worth noting that Suzann Pettersen and Lydia Ko chose to warm up for this week’s Women’s British Open by teeing it up at the Scottish Open. (Both finished in the top five.) Before Zach Johnson won at St. Andrews, the last five men’s Open winners had played the week before at the Scottish Open. It’ll be interesting to see if getting adjusted early to the time change, the weather and links golf boost Pettersen and Ko in their pursuit of a major title. 

The wins keep coming for instructor Cameron McCormick, recently voted the National PGA Teacher of the Year. Another of his students, Philip Barbaree, erased a five-hole deficit with eight holes to play to stun Andrew Orischak and win the U.S. Junior Amateur. McCormick now teaches four of the past seven U.S. Junior champions, including his most famous pupil, Spieth. 

Here’s one thing that’ll help ease the sting of defeat: Orischak still gets to take Holly Sonders as his date to prom. That'll definitely get you a seat at the cool kids' table.

This week’s European Tour event is the Paul Lawrie Match Play event in Scotland. Why should you care? Because the crew played at host course Murcar Links two weeks ago!

It’s a short track – last we checked, it tipped out at about 6,500 yards – but the wind was howling and the rough was so juicy that if you missed the fairway you could kiss the ball goodbye. And miss fairways we did, not least because we had just gotten off a flight from Orlando to Atlanta to Heathrow to Aberdeen. There should be plenty of birdies, because we sure as hell didn't use 'em all up. 

BY FAR my favorite part of this photo is Zach Johnson’s reaction. Hand stuffed in his pants pocket, he has a look like Spieth stole the jug out of his hands and took a big ol’ swig. “I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed.” 

Colin Montgomerie stormed off the course at Sunningdale and declined to talk to the media after blowing a chance to win the Senior British Open. Grumpy Monty. Some things never change.  

Haven’t seen that, but it’s not all that surprising. Woods is always judged against the backdrop of his past accomplishments, and so it’s reasonable to wonder how much more he will endure before he seriously considers the R-word.  

Can see both sides on this one: Yes he’s only 39 and has shown an ability (four times, in fact) to win many tournaments with different swings. But on the other hand, his body is closer to 49 than 39, he has admitted that he doesn’t practice as hard as he used to, his game is in shambles, and the competition is only getting better.

The other greats of his generation – Vijay, Ernie, Retief, etc. – aren’t winning either, but at least they’ve shown glimpses in the past two years of being competitive. The same can’t be said for Woods. Only he knows for sure how much longer he wants to play. 

I like the idea of incorporating some elements of match play, but it comes with a risk. Let’s face it: Even with $11.44 million on the line, a final match between Steven Bowditch and Ryan Moore wouldn’t fire up the masses. 

That said, the FedEx Cup system hasn’t exactly followed through with its promise to crown the season-long champion. Instead, it often has come down to which player performs the best in the Tour Championship. So why not spruce up the finale?

My proposal is this: Make the Tour Championship a five-day event (Weds-Sun). Have three rounds of stroke-play qualifying for the entire 30-man field, then trim to the top eight players. Play the quarterfinal and semifinal matches on Saturday, setting up an 18-hole championship match (and, yes, the big-money consolation bout) Sunday with more than $10 million at stake. It might not produce the most deserving season-long champion – the current format doesn’t either – but it should produce more excitement.

DJ, Koepka, Rickie, Reed, Walker.

I thought DJ would be a monster favorite at Whistling Straits, but then he imploded with the 36-hole lead at St. Andrews. He has developed a reputation as golf’s Teflon man, but even he must have a few doubts creeping in. Of those contenders, he’s still No. 1, but not by much.

It’s hard not to be excited about Koepka’s skill set, and he’s shown an ability to rise to the occasion at the majors. He has made the cut in all three this season, including back-to-back top-20s at the summer Opens. You could make a case for Fowler every week, but the two times I’ve tabbed him to perform well – Chambers Bay and St. Andrews – he’s disappointed greatly. Reed has been steady but unspectacular of late, and he doesn’t have a top-10 since his playoff loss in Tampa. Jimmy Walker might be one of five players with multiple wins this season, but it’s been a struggle since the Masters – one top-25 in eight starts. If he can turn it around, Whistling Straits should set up perfectly for his brawny game.